Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The last time SF campers tried legalization

Institutional memory is a funny thing. All this talk about legalizing [OK, maybe just authorizing] a long-term camp site in San Francisco for the Occupy protesters, and lots of people remember Camp Agnos. Not so many remember the more practical 1998 proposal from the Vehicularly Housed Residents' Association to set up a long-term RV park on a vacant PUC property. (The VHRA was a doomed offshoot of the Coalition on Homelessness. That was back when the Coalition had the energy for doomed offshoots.)

The idea was for residents of RVs (not so much cars) -- that is, people who were already camping illicitly on waterfront streets -- to have their own space, their own community, with no more rousting, and with hookups, electricity, a wash house, self-government -- it sounded like a good idea. Almost kind of like those refreshingly decent migrant workers' camps that get mentioned in The Grapes of Wrath. The proposal got far enough that it was supposed to go on a list of the city's proposals for HUD Continuum of Care funding -- and then, mysteriously, it wasn't on that list after all. Somebody in the Willie Brown administration had yanked the idea. People probably haven't heard of the 1998 vehicular campsite proposal because the only SF Chron coverage of it, or anyway all I can find now, was this nasty and misleading editorial.

The 1998 proposal just seems worth mentioning, now that Occupy SF residents are negotiating to occupy a closed school campus in the Mission District. (Sad, to replace a school with an encampment. Of course the reasons the school is vacant are part of what there is to protest.) This negotiation does look a lot like cooptation. In ways the movement would be better served by adopting a non-residential or peripatetic new mode rather than sagging into a sanctioned pigeonhole like that school property. Yeah, but for the first time in thirteen years there is serious talk in San Francisco of legalizing camping for long-term campers.

That's something. Not sure what, but it's something.

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